Deciding what conferences to attend as a pastor always feels like a gamble to me. I’m gambling my time and the church’s money. Many times the topic and speaker(s) appear quite interesting but then I go and leave disappointed that I heard some esoteric academic ramblings that may be interesting but have little real value for me as a pastor—or for my people. I don’t need to list any examples as most pastors can quickly come up with a list of such conferences.
That is why I was so intrigued when The Bugenhagen Conference was first announced. The description on the home page described everything I could possibly want in a conference:
The Reformation held up the great truth of salvation by grace through faith. Faithful Lutheran pastors know that the gospel is to permeate the teaching and the life of the congregation. Our preaching, teaching, and all of our practices should be fully shaped by the Word of God. The Pastor ought to excel in his ministry whether it be in teaching, caring for the sick and dying, providing biblical counsel, or being an example in holy living.
The Bugenhagen Conference was created to help pastors hone their craft and excel in all facets of ministry. Pastors know that there is always room for improvement, whether it be in the routine tasks of administration, or in more particular matters of pastoral leadership in the parish. The pastor is to be competent, confident, and skilled in his ministry.
The Bugenhagen Conference is a gathering particularly designed for the parish pastor, providing a place for him to honestly evaluate himself against the biblical model of who a pastor is to be. Here he can critically assess among brothers what qualities, skills, and characteristics he has developed and, also, where he needs to develop. The workshops allow pastors to hear from brothers in the ministerium who can provide practical guidance in approaching specific tasks and challenging situations that one may face in the parish.
Those are some lofty goals, I thought, but I knew the men who had put it together and trusted that they could deliver on these things. I booked a plane ticket to Milwaukee within a few days of the conference being announced – even though there is no cheap way for me to fly from here (rural Colorado) to there.
Well, The Bugenhagen Conference was just held last week at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin and it did not disappoint.
They offered a total of thirty-four workshops over eight different sessions as well as three keynote speakers. The workshop presentations covered five different aspects of pastoral ministry: 1) Preaching and Teaching, 2) Liturgical Matters, 3) Care of Souls, 4) Congregational Life and Parish Administration, 5) Pastoral Leadership. (You can read through all of the options over on their website.)
I ended up attending at least one workshop from each category. I benefited from all of the workshops but thought I would focus on one, in particular, to give you an idea of how beneficial they truly were.
The very last workshop I attended was by the Rev. David Petersen on “Spiritual Counsel in the Confessional.” The room was packed because I believe that many of us pastors often feel unprepared for helping people in the Confessional. I think this is primarily for two reasons: 1) We weren’t taught this at the seminary, and 2) Even with our own practice of private confession we haven’t always seen it modeled or taught in the way that we believe would be most helpful to the penitent.
For one hour, Rev. Petersen walked us through the rite of Confession and Absolution and explained how he questions the penitent, how he guides them, how he proclaims God’s Word to them after the absolution. It was wonderful and something that every pastor could go home and immediately put into practice.
If you haven’t picked up on this yet, this was the best conference I have attended as a pastor. Everything—from the keynote speakers to the workshops to the worship services—was done well and was faithful to the Bible and our Confessions. I knew going in that I had many things to work on as a pastor and after attending I see even more areas that need improvement but the conference helped give me the resources and tools to improve in those things. This is true whether the workshop’s topic was something like building an all-male acolyte corps or teaching the fear of God in the congregation.
It sounds like they are already planning one for next year. You should make plans to attend and not miss the opportunity.
One final note—the conference was free! This was due in large part to the generosity of all of the presenters and of the two host congregations, St. John’s in Racine and St. Paul’s in Union Grove. The hosts were gracious and generous. They even provided 2 meals for over a hundred pastors at no cost.